Foreign Policy

Tunisia’s Significance–the Interim Phase

Max Boot, the defense and foreign policy writer now lodged at the Council on Foreign Relations, was on the same International Republican Institute observer mission for the Tunisian elections the past week. His well-presented descriptions in the Weekly Standard are all ones I can endorse.

Tunisia, with a population about the size of Illinois, has made real progress, as Max points out. The next election–for President, a somewhat ill-defined post–will say a lot about the ability of disparate groups to work together. The struggle in Tunisia now is not so much Islamism versus secularism as free marketers versus statists. The old system was a familiar developing world type: part state-connected crony capitalism, part socialism. It’s a bad mix, unless you like stagnation.

This matters to America for several reasons. First, we need a regional model for Muslim countries working in a democratic framework with broad human rights (including minority rights) guarantees.

Second, Tunisia has the potential to show how a third world economic approach can be changed with new economic policies. The Afec party (“Aspiration”) is made up of young people who know their stuff and other parties respect them for it. The moderate Islamist party (Ennhahda–“Renaissance”), oddly enough, is probably more open to economic liberalism than the now-leading party, Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), which includes many of the technocrats from the old dictatorial regime. Read More ›

Tunisia Offers New Hope for Democracy in Islamic Land

A Sample Ballot

A Sample Ballot

The elections in Tunisia yesterday showed that democracy is a real and growing commitment in the country where the “Arab Spring” began three years ago. Maybe because free choice has taken such a varied beating elsewhere in the region, Tunisians seemed determined to use the levers of the franchise to create a new political reality in this overwhelmingly Muslim land on the African coast south of Sicily.

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Tunisia’s Big Moment Sunday

The imminent American mid-term elections should not close our minds to the important elections taking place tomorrow in three friendly,but crucial states: Ukraine, Brazil and Tunisia. In some ways, Tunisia is most pivotal. Four years after the “Arab Spring” began with a Tunisian vendor in Sidi Bouzid setting himself on fire in desperation over harassing government regulations–and thereby setting fire also to a revolution that ended a long time dictatorship–the most promising Muslim electorate in the region is about to move toward a more stable and tolerant democracy. There have been three U.S.sponsored observer delegations here to take account of developments in the recent writing of a new constitution and now in the parliamentary elections. A presidential election will be Read More ›

They Check Voter IDs in Tunisia

Official foreign observers are in Tunisia this week for the parliamentary elections that take place on the 26th–three years after “the Arab Spring” revolution that returned democracy to this nation of 10 million. Today, leaders of the Independent Election Commission that has put 15,000 trained polling officials on duty assured the International Republican Institute delegation (of which I am a member) that every effort is made to avoid fraud.

For example, if someone appears at a voting center without acceptable ID, he or she will be turned away. Without exceptions. Read More ›

World War I Without Americans

In Paris, and here is the “Exposition on the Front”, the story of the Great War–World War I–at Les Invalides, in the same complex that houses Napoleon’s tomb. There’s a problem: there is almost no mention of the American role in bringing the war to an end. That is despite hundreds of photos, posters, memorabilia, etc. on the French, the British, the Italians and the Germans, the Austrians, etc. The briefest of mentions in a slide show refers to American “contingents” that arrived in 19l8. The implication is that they were incidental to the outcome. The French suffered terribly–and most–in the First World War. But their sacrifice was not made alone. If this were DeGaulle’s day the exhibit’s omission would Read More ›

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis; Political Crisis to Follow?

Leftist Venezuela is joining leftist Argentina in a downward economic spiral brought on largely by the government. Economic mismanagement does tend to lead to economic distress, then to social and political turmoil. Two Harvard professors expect a Venezuela default on its debts.

Unlike Argentina, Venezuela is oil rich. But free-spenders have boosted inflation to about 65 percent. The government-run oil industry pumps two million barrels a day. But its spending habit needs world prices of $200 per barrel, while actual prices are declining toward the low 80’s.

The weakening global economy, combined with U.S. fracking and other oil development, are responsible for the falling oil prices. North Dakota and Texas will slow production, most likely, as will sheikdoms in the Middle East. Iran and Nigeria will feel the pain. But the countries that will hurt the most include Russia, whose economy is dominated by fossil fuels, and Venezuela, a nation that is falling deeper and deeper into the inflation trap and experiencing consumer scarcities brought on by government price controls and reckless spending. Read More ›

Putin Clowns Around

It is going to take Russia a long time to get over Vladimir Putin. Because the U.S.put sanctions on many of Putin’s cronies after Russia ran a thinly disguised invasion of Ukraine, Putin retaliated by, among other things, sending inspectors out to find health and safety problems at ………MacDonald’s restaurants. Now, having effectively closed them, his minions are going after the Ronald MacDonald House charity, speculating that its is of money laundering.

Now, it is sad that satire of the Leader is not allowed in Putin’s Russia, for this sort of antic would be a ripe target. But it is more pathetic than sad that the U.S. lacks satirists to take on this subject. Regardless, the attack on on Ronald MacDonald House is laughable.

Unfortunately, the laugh is on ordinary Russians that benefit from Ronald MacDonald House services to families of sick and injured children in hospitals. They are the victims of Mr. Putin’s strange anger. Read More ›

U.S. Will Split on ISIS

Sadly, there is a circularity to the issue of war since, say, Korea (1950-53). Initially, the public is supportive (“rally ‘round the flag”), but as time and the cost in blood and treasure mount, critics are heard. Eventually, the support disappears. Right now the public wants and demands action against ISIS and other Islamist terror threats. There is new realism that admits—as did not happen in the U.S. Government after 9/11 and especially since Mr. Obama’s ascension—that the threat is from Muslim extremists. But otherwise the script looks distressingly familiar.

Republicans already are taking on their Democratic foes in Congressional races for being uninterested in the terrorism problem until now. That is happening, for example, in North Carolina.

On the other end of the spectrum, left-wingers who couldn’t find a bad thing to say about Barack Obama in 2008 or ’12 are now grumbling about his turnabout on the terrorism issue. Frank Rich, formerly of the New York Times and now of New York Magazine, and a reliable windsock of progressive trends, is furious.

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New Nukes Are Good News

It took a while for the United State Government to turn the nuclear disarmament ship around, but now that seems to have happened. Disarmament was a theme of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, even after it became clear that Russia is not living up to past agreements, China’s military ambitions are growing, and Iran is still not agreeing to step back from developing the bomb.

A failure to stand up to Russia, in particular, is dangerous at this juncture. Not content to threaten Ukraine, the Kremlin is trying to cow the Baltics. At present, NATO is woefully unprepared to answer a sophisticated challenge.. At present, NATO is woefully unprepared to answer a sophisticated challenge. The propaganda war and what (before World War II) once was known as “salami tactics” of Russian intimidation have to be answered in a conventional manner, but with updates.

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Aye or Nay in Scotland

Photo by Judi Beck.

Scots are famously (or notoriously) tight; er, frugal. They may look at the upcoming referendum through the lens of Braveheart resentments going back hundreds of years (and to the recent Mel Gibson movie), but those old issues really don’t apply today in any meaningful spiritual sense, let alone a practical one. The smart vote is “No”, as the Scotsman newspaper just said on its front page. Read More ›